Emanuel, or Children of the Soil/Book 5, Chapter 4

Emanuel, or Children of the Soil (1896)
by Henrik Pontoppidan, illustrated by Nelly Erichsen, translated by Alice Lucas
Book V; Chapter IV
Henrik Pontoppidan4533631Emanuel, or Children of the SoilBook V; Chapter IV1896Alice Lucas (1855-1935)

The wedding day broke clear and calm, and nearly as hot as summer. For more than a week, and all through the last night, baking and boiling had been going on at the Farm. The cellars were filled to overflowing with huge joints, mighty hams, brawn and smoked legs of mutton. There were tubs of sausages, baskets heaped with boiled eggs, and lump sugar, ox tongues and dried herrings, mounds of butter and prune tarts as big as cart wheels. These last sent, according to custom, as wedding gifts by the oldest friends of the family.

Neilsen the carpenter and a couple of assistants were putting the finishing touches to the big tent in the little meadow behind the house; while the young girls were busy decorating the walls of the Meeting House with garlands of fir and painted shields. Flags were flying all over the village, and two masts were raised in front of the bride's house, entwined with green, bearing between them a banner with the word "Welcome."

The marriage was to take place at twelve o'clock, but as early as ten the guests began to appear. Emanuel arrived early. After much consideration he had decided to be married in his robes.

Lunch tables were spread in the blue-washed "best room," where no less a person than Villing was acting as master of the ceremonies. In this character he received all the men and served "Snaps" and ale. Emanuel had specially desired that the marriage customs of the neighbourhood were in no way to be broken. He refused the "Snaps," however, and contented himself with a glass of ale. In the course of an hour the rooms were filled with gaily dressed people, and the great question among them was,—who would perform the ceremony? Emanuel had seen the bishop some time before on the subject, and he had hinted at the possibility of coming himself. As an old friend of Emanuel's mother, he said, he was, in a way, the most suitable person. They were all much excited now as to whether such an honour would be shewn to the congregation.

At half-past eleven the peasants' "Holstein waggons" came up, some thirty odd, and they began to take their seats. The carriages for the bridal pair and their nearest friends were drawn up in the courtyard; the others formed a line outside, reaching from the bride's house to the end of the village.

In the meantime Hansine was sitting in her room, because the guests might not see the bride till they were all seated in the carriages. Then she appeared on the stone steps at Emanuel's side. She wore a black woollen dress with narrow lace at the throat and wrists. Under the bridal veil and wreath of myrtle she had a closely fitting cap, thickly embroidered with gold and beads, which had been part of her great-grandmother's bridal costume. She wore it to-day by Emanuel's special wish. The lunch had loosened the tongues of many of the men already, and there was plenty of gossip on the way to church. The buzz only died down when they came within sound of the bells, and Else began to cry. Hansine, on the contrary, kept the fixed and reserved expression which was usual to her in moments of strong emotion. The church, the haze, the blue shallows of the Fiord, and the opposite shore—all lay bathed in golden sunshine. Clouds of starlings skimmed along, and white gulls were screaming over the water.

On reaching the churchyard wall the bishop's gig was seen, and the bishop himself was standing in front of the church door in his silk gown and with his orders on his breast to receive them. It was a solemn and memorable moment for them all, when—uncovering his white head—he went to meet the bridal pair, and led the way into the church at the head of the procession.

The address was short and in the tone of an ordinary speech. The bishop belonged to those modern preachers who adopt an easy conversational voice, and pronounce such words as "Christ" and "The Holy Ghost" with the same simplicity as in naming a friend. His speech was a repetition of what he had said on a former occasion at the luncheon table at Veilby Parsonage; the same pictures and expressions occurred here again. He first compared Emanuel with a plant, seeking a new soil; then the congregation to a big tree, in whose shelter and shade the plant was to grow. He concluded by calling down a blessing from the Lord on the new covenant which was here sealed.

On the conclusion of the ceremony they all assembled in the churchyard, and the Bishop greeted several of the people, taking the opportunity to single out Hansen, the weaver. Else thanked the bishop with much emotion for the honour he had shown to her daughter and her son-in-law, and invited him to join the wedding festivities, but he excused himself, having to be home before evening. After changing his gown in the vestry for the linen driving coat, he again shook hands with the bridal pair and some of the bystanders, mounted his gig and drove off.

Immediately afterwards the bridal procession started homewards with much cracking of whips. Guns were fired from various farms and meadows as they drove through the village, amid rearing of horses and screaming of women.

Four musicians with violins and horns stood outside the bride's house, and struck up a tune every time a conveyance stopped to set down visitors. Some of these were stiff old grandfathers, and stout, heavy women, who had to be helped down by three men; the smiling young girls, with their floating red ribbons, sprang out into the arms of any youth who came forward.

All the "Friends," both from Skibberup itself and the surrounding country, had been invited, but most of the young folks were only to come to the dance. Even old Erik was limping about with his Sunday crutch, while, with a beaming face, he snuffed the savoury odours of roast meat which hung about the house, and filled both the courtyard and the garden.

The director of the High School, who had been becalmed on the Fiord, now arrived with his Jetté, a tall bony female with a red face and spectacles. He hobbled about among the guests with a broad, benignant smile; slapping the men on the shoulder, shaking hands with the women, making lively remarks, and slyly pinching the cheeks of the girls. The weaver, on the other hand, went about silently with his hands on his back, smiling ambiguously first on one side of his face and then on the other.

When all the guests were assembled, Villing appeared on the outer stone steps in white gloves, and clapped his hands. Then, with the musicians and the bridal pair at the head, the wedding party walked in solemn procession to the flag-bedecked tent. Long tables were spread with steaming dishes of rice porridge, big jugs of ale, and, here and there, glasses of claret. A tower-shaped tart, a yard in height, graced the middle of the table, and at the upper end, in front of the bride and bridegroom, a whole flower-bed was spread out round a large flat cake, iced, with their initials on it in raspberry jam.

Villing welcomed them from the bottom of the table and said grace, and then the spoons came into play, and before long they all agreed that Maren Smeds had outdone herself. Even those who took omens from the bridal porridge had nothing to complain of to-day. The ten labourers wives to whom the waiting was entrusted, rushed about indefatigably, bearing heaped-up bowls, so that the shame of any of the guests having to tap an empty bowl with his spoon should not be theirs.

When the joints were put on the table the speeches began. First the High School director made a highly poetical oration, during which the people looked devoutly into their laps. Emanuel, who had taken off his gown, spoke next. He thanked the "Friends" for the kindness with which they had received him—a stranger—into their community, especially thanking his parents-in-law, in whose house he had found a new home. Then Anders Jörgen rose, and with a bewildered expression, stammered out some words in an inaudible voice, and sat down again. It was understood to have been a toast for the "Fatherland," and cheers broke out round the table. Later on, the weaver said a few dry words about the "New Spirit." Villing followed—as a speaker he affected the emotional line, and he called upon them in an agitated voice to drink to the "memory of the departed," more particularly alluding to Emanuel's mother. They sang a song between each speech, led by Neilsen's resounding bass.

By this time it was almost dark, and the young people were impatiently waiting in the gaily lighted hall. They were anxious to dance the bride out of the maiden state. Villing rose once again, and in burning words and amid loud cheers proposed a toast for the "People's Cause," expressing a hope that it would soon rise triumphant all over the world. Emanuel said grace and rehearsed the creed, and then the party broke up and went along to the Meeting House.

Dancing and singing were gaily kept up till broad daylight.

At midnight Emanuel and Hansine took leave, and started for their new home in a carriage decorated with flowers. All the guests gathered round to bid them farewell, and cheered them to the echo.

Shortly before, a messenger had been despatched to Veilby, as the young people there had decided at the last moment to give them a festive reception. As soon as Emanuel left the Parsonage in the morning, they set about erecting a triumphal arch over the gateway. This was to be lighted up with coloured lamps at the home-coming of the bridal pair. Besides this, they planted a row of torches at the side of the road, which cast a fantastic glare around, in the calm dark night.

When Emanuel saw the red light from the high road he caught Hansine's hand and held it fast. It looked to him as if the dark heavy mass of the Parsonage Hill were raised on pillars of fire,—and he was reminded, by the sight, of a dream which he had once had, of finding the magic word which would cause the hills to open before him.…

Now he was driving with his peasant bride right into the mountain.